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Family Law Firm: Helping Identify and Respond to Family Violence

Family violence a key element in some separation or divorce cases, however many clients are unable, or unwilling, to talk about their experiences with their family law firm.

Of all reported violent crime in Canada, 26% is related to family violence; 67% of the victims are women and girls. And most experts agree that family violence is underreported and underestimated. (Source: Public Health Agency of Canada). Victims of family violence often don’t speak up out of fear or shame about their situation, or they may feel they will not be believed.

On March 1, 2021, provisions on family violence were added to the Divorce Act.  Judges are required to take family violence into account, particularly when protecting the best interests of a child. The process of separation and divorce can be difficult even on the most stable families, let alone in homes where there is existing abuse.

There is a higher risk of family violence immediately following a separation, and children may be more at risk of violence both during and after separation and divorce.

In addition to the new provisions in the Divorce Act, there are Ontario laws about family violence. But if it’s under-reported and victims are unwilling or unable to speak out, how can the courts help?

HELP Toolkit: Identifying and Responding to Family Violence for Family Law Firm Legal Advisers

To help lawyers and legal advisors working in a family law firm identify issues of family violence, the Government of Canada developed the HELP toolkit. The toolkit was developed with input from family law and family violence experts from across Canada.

The toolkit is designed to help legal advisors identify and respond appropriately to cases involving family violence. It helps lawyers with varied experience levels:

  • Have initial discussions regarding family violence and be aware of potential indicators.
  • Explore immediate safety concerns and make referrals if appropriate
  • Learn more about the type of violence and its impacts and gather relevant details.
  • Promote safety throughout the family law case to protect the spouse and children.

What Does the Court Consider to be Family Violence?

The definition of family violence includes physical and sexual violence, psychological and financial abuse, as well as threats of abuse.

  • Physical abuse, such as punching, slapping, kicking and forcible confinement, sexual abuse and sexual assault.
  • Threats to kill or cause bodily harm to another person, harassment and stalking.
  • Failure to provide the necessities of life, such as preventing a family member from receiving required medical attention.
  • Psychological abuse, such as a pattern of ridiculing, yelling at and criticizing a family member. To be considered family violence, the abuse must be threatening, perceived as coercive and controlling behaviour, or cause a family member to fear for their safety or the safety of another.
  • Financial abuse, such as not giving a spouse access to their bank account or paycheque, or preventing them from working.
  • Threats to kill or harm an animal or to damage property, or actually causing that harm.

The HELP toolkit encourages legal advisors at a family law firm to initiate discussions about violence and its impact on the family.

If You Are Experiencing Family Violence

If you are in immediate danger, call 911 or your local police immediately. If you are not in immediate danger, seek help from one of the available supports. Although it may be a difficult conversation, talk to a lawyer and find out what the law can do to protect you and your children.

Remember, family violence is a consideration in your separation or divorce case. The more your family lawyer is aware of the details of your case, the more they can help.

Kelly D. Jordan Family Law Firm – Experienced, Compassionate Family Law Team

If you want to discuss separation or divorce, contact the Kelly D. Jordan Family Law Firm. A recognized specialist in all areas of family law, Kelly Jordan’s vast family law experience, creative approach to legal strategy, and compassion have made her a renowned and dependable name in the field of family law in Ontario and across Canada.

If you want to work with Kelly and her team, you can get started online, email us, or call us at 647-277-5023.


Government of Canada: Family violence: How big is the problem in Canada?

Government of Canada: HELP Toolkit: Identifying and Responding to Family Violence for Family Law Legal Advisers

Divorce Act: Definitions of Family Violence

Government of Ontario: Violence in the family